One man’s fight against foreclosures in Carpentersville

by Les Christie | @CNNMoney homes_by_otto

Tom Roeser is on a one-man mission to save Carpentersville, Ill., from falling into the fate of so many post-industrial Midwestern towns, where neighborhoods have become littered with vacant, foreclosed homes.

Over the past several years, the 60-year-old president and co-owner of the town’s largest employer, a maker of switches and communications gear called Otto Engineering, has bought 193 foreclosed homes, completely rehabilitated them and is either selling or renting them at a discount to local residents.

Roeser’s crusade to save this small Northeastern Illinois town started in 2005, soon after a townhouse condominium complex located about two miles from his factory was hit hard by foreclosures and started spawning crime — graffiti, gang tagging, property destruction. The Morningside neighborhood where the complex was located looked unkempt and depressed and property values were plunging.

East Dundee: A serene enclave along Fox River

by Leslie Mann, Special to the Chicago Tribune

World leaders could resolve all their problems if only they would listen to the “Couch Potatoes” who gather daily for coffee at the Manor Restaurant in East Dundee.

So-dubbed because of the banquette they occupy shortly after dawn, the group includes Manor owner George Koulis, who has fried thousands of breakfast skillets in the 34 years he and his family have fed the folks who call this historic burg home.

Outside, the valley awakens, as a fog rolls off the Fox River and disappears among the older houses that define the village’s quiet downtown. Shopkeepers roll up their blinds. Early-bird fishermen pack their tackle boxes and reel in their lines.

Thirty-five miles from the Loop, East Dundee is West Dundee’s older sister, incorporated in 1871. Divided by the river, the two villages appear as one to visitors traveling their shared east-west corridor, Illinois Highway 72.

In 1956, East Dundee wanted to merge, but West Dundee voted against the plan. In 1962, it was the other way around. “Now we’re better off each having our own, smaller government,” said East Dundee Mayor Lael Miller, a former village trustee who defeated the incumbent in the April 9 election.

No more secret negotiations

Chicago Tribune Editorial

Quinn-AFSCME deal still under wraps

When Gov. Pat Quinn and the state’s largest public employee union struck an agreement on a new contract, both sides lauded the deal.

“This agreement is fair to both hardworking state employees and all taxpayers of Illinois,” Quinn said in a statement.

“AFSCME is very pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that protects our members’ standard of living, and is fair to them and all Illinois citizens, even in these very challenging economic times,” said Henry Bayer, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31.

What neither side said: “Here’s a copy of the contract.”

We’ve been asking for a copy since Feb. 28, the day the two sides announced the agreement. Quinn’s office said we had to wait until union members ratified the contract. That happened on March 19.

Since then, we’ve been told the lawyers needed time to tidy up the paperwork.

A full month of tidying? Sorry, but we’re out of patience. Taxpayers are picking up the tab for this contract. They deserve to know how much Quinn and the employee union ordered up in pay and benefits. In fact, taxpayers should have the opportunity to weigh in before the contract gets finalized with Quinn’s signature.

The AFSCME contract is important because it determines the state’s personnel and health care costs until June 2015, when the contract is set to expire. The contract represents one of the state’s largest expenses, not to mention determining employee work rules: attendance policy, vacation time, sick leave.

A moratorium on online learning means missed opportunities for Illinois’ children

By Scott Reeder | Illinois Policy Institute

SPRINGFIELD – The most startling thing about being a parent for me is how remarkably different each of my three daughters are.

It’s as if each was born with a distinct personality.

And while they are all bright girls, they learn in distinctly different ways.

My 7-year-old- Grace loves to draw and paint, and needs constant “atta girls” as she takes on difficult tasks such as playing a new piano piece. She asks tough questions of her teachers – and expects answers.

On the other hand, my daughter Anna, who will be 5 in a few weeks, seems to always have her face glued to an iPad, working through difficult math puzzles and other educational games.

As soon as I arrive home from work, she begs me to allow her to log in to her school’s website to learn more.

My 2-year-old Caitlin likes to explore. She has her hands on everything – dogs, cats, shoes, clay. She experiences learning through touch.

No child is the same.

Are Internet Charter Schools The Future?

By Josh Dwyer | Illinois Policy Institute

More than 10,000 students across Idaho will be using Khan Academy, the successful Internet education organization, in their classroom this coming school year.

Khan Academy’s videos – which span a variety of subjects, from Renaissance art to game theory – have allowed many teachers to “flip” classrooms by letting students to listen to lectures at home and work on homework at school.

This new approach, combined with the individual tracking of students, has helped teachers to better utilize their time at school and make sure that no student moves on from a lesson until they have mastered the material.

Fox River Begins To Recede

by First Electronic Newspaper

The water level in the flooding Fox River remained steady three feet above flood stage Sunday but National Weather Service Hydrologists expected it to begin to abate this morning.  The Fox below Algonquin Dam hit 12.5 feet Sunday morning, 6 inches above major flood stage with a 7,330 cubic feet per second flow.  That was about 5 times normal volume.

Forecasters said Fox water levels will begin a slow drop this morning but the river’s not expected to fall below flood stage until at least next week.

SEC charged Illinois officials with making misleading statements

State and local governments owe $7.3 trillion in promises they’ve made that were never approved by taxpayers. | Steven Malanga

Earlier this month, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Illinois officials with making misleading statements to bond investors about the state’s pension system. The agency detailed a long list of deceptive practices including failure to tell investors that the system was so underfunded that it risked bankruptcy.

Illinois taxpayers, as well as the holders of its debt, will ultimately bear the burden of the officials’ misdeeds. But there is nothing unique about the Prairie State. For years, elected officials in states and municipalities across the country have been imprudently piling up obligations that are imposing serious strains on budgets, prompting higher taxes and cutbacks in services.

In January, city officials in Sacramento, California’s capital, reported the results of a study they had commissioned on all the debt that the municipality had incurred. At a City Council meeting that the Sacramento Bee reported as “sobering,” the city manager explained that Sacramento had racked up some $2 billion in obligations (mostly pensions and retiree health care). All this for a municipality of 477,000 residents with an annual general fund budget of just $366 million.